How can I describe Japan? Colorful, inviting, wonderful smells, great people, honest history, welcoming to visitors, best food around, I could probably go on but I think you can understand I loved Japan.
We had 4 stops in Japan- 2 full of history and 2 full of new and exciting adventures. History was covered in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For those that tuned out during history class, these 2 towns were hit by US atomic bombs during WWII. To stand in a hole where a nuclear bomb was dropped was an experience I will never forget. Today memorials circle around the area as a tribute to the different nationalities lost. I was very surprised to see how green the area is. Large trees, green grass, and beautiful flowers in the exact spot so many people lost their lives not long along.
Matt enjoyed a 20 minute ride in Japan’s famous bullet train. He of course took the window seat! It was fun to watch him smile as we whooshed past everyone.
**Important note about the Japanese people. They are committed to removing nuclear weapons from the world. They tell a story of a little girl burnt by the radiation from the bomb, who sat in a hospital bed for many months. It was her belief that if she made enough origami cranes she would be healed. (Cranes carry many symbols in their culture-one is health) Sadly she died from her injuries, but the people have taken her goal and turned it into their campaign to remove the weapons from every country.
Cranes are everywhere, paper, metal, plastic, and Japan continues to makes these in the hope of one day enough will be made to convince leaders to remove these weapons.
I love that story!
Komodo was quick afternoon stop for us. Not much time to see the main island but we did see living dinosaurs! The Komodo dragon lives up to the hype-bad attitude, fast killer, and very creepy to see. Dragons live on a complete protein diet and have been known to take down a deer, or human that gets close enough. Most of their lives are spent alone wondering through the forest where they are almost completely camouflaged with the dirt and broken tree limbs.
The few people that live on the island are outnumbered 10 to 1 in favor of the dragons. Living with dragons is not something I would want to do-they are hard to see, have a very bad attitude, fast, and have killed people before. This was a great spot to visit but I’m glad I don’t live there!
I had the hardest time deciding what to do here. I was invited to scuba dive with some friends (a favorite past time for me) or Matt and I could explore the area. Having never been there (and hearing of a lot of beautiful spots) we choose to explore land. It gave us a chance to get off the boat overnight-sleep in a hotel and explore nonstop!
Even with the extra hours and over night stop gave us, we didn’t have enough time to see everything. What we did see was beautiful. Temples on cliffs overlooking the ocean, gardens so green and lush it is hard to describe. The local people are very welcoming, almost over the top. Our guides were very upset that Matt wanted to hold his own umbrella..they offered to hold it many Many MANY times. :)
Personal side note: the food here was fantastic. I got the impression from the sizes of the plates that dinner is the only time they eat. I have never seen a plate so large-filled with great food-have you seen Willy Wonka? Well like Violet, I was sure someone would need to roll me out of the room.
As for my diving friends, they had a great trip too. The list of animals they saw was large and made me very jealous.
Click here to ediI’m getting a little bored with the usual format of my reports-and you should know that I tend to get into trouble when I’m bored! So today’s plan is to try something new. If you don’t like it don’t worry I’ll get bored again and try something else soon.
Q&A about China
Q: Is food in China the same as American Chinese food?
A: (Jeni) YES! It was wonderful food, lot of rice and lots of meat. Almost everything is ate with chop sticks, I’m so glad I learned how to use them. Rice is very hard to eat with chop sticks...
A: (Matt) Rice is hard to eat with chop sticks... ;p, but tasty
Q: What was my favorite stop in China?
A: (Jeni) We had 5 stops planned: Sanya, Hong Kong, Shanghai (which was canceled due to weather), Beijing, and Dalian. My favorite was Beijing. We left town and drove through the country side to a small portion of the Great Wall. It was a perfect day for me, snowing, mountains, trees, and very few people. My favorite!
A: (Matt) Beijing as well. The contrast of getting snowed on when visiting the Great Wall to the lights and energy of the mordern city was amazing.
Q: Would I go back again?
A: (Jeni) Truthfully-probably not. The Chinese government made it very hard to enter the country, they changed the rules on us often, and made sure to let all the Americans know how they felt about current trade disputes.
It’s sad to say that because the country, the people, and activities were wonderful. Not to mention how cheep the shopping was! Maybe if both countries can grow up and stop fighting I would change my mind.
A: (Matt) Yes. I’m fasinated with what they’ve done with their economy and how far they’ve brought themselves in the last 30 years. I’m eager and terrified to see where they go in the next 30 years.
Q: How did we communicate-did they speak English-do we speak Cantonese?
A: (Jeni) China has many languages Cantonese and Mandarin being the two most widely spoken. No I do not speak any of the Chinese languages. For the most part everyone spoke a little English. The areas we visited are tourist spots, so even if no one spoke English, things are set up to help without speaking. An example: we ordered lunch at a restaurant by pointing to our order on a menu and laughing. They laughed at us, we laughed at ourselves, it was fun!
A: (Matt) Google translate helped a bunch as well. It was far from perfect, but it would get the point across
Q: What was the biggest struggle we had in China?
A: (Jeni) For me the biggest struggle was also the most embarrassing moment ever! Our first stop was Sanya, which has been described to us as the Hawaii of China, and it was! There were so many beaches, and shops, and great restaurants! Matt and I were having trouble finding a bank open, and our debit cards did not work on their ATM system-so hot, frustrated, and very hungry we decided to find lunch instead.
Inside a huge mall we found a great place for lunch, the food was SO GOOD! When it came time to pay I walked up with my ticket and visa, only to have that card not work on their system either! So-we had $20 American, no Yuan (China money), and 3 credit cards that didn’t work. A manger that spoke English came out and we explained the situtation. He was very gracous and accepted our US dollars as payment.
Such a rookie mistake-we should have confirmed payment before! No more assumptions for us.
A: (Matt) Sanya was the most difficult and surprisingly so. It seemed the most modern and built up fancy place we’ve visited short of Miami. We were really caught off gaurd and felt hopeless when none off our cards worked. This was the first time this has happened during this entire trip!!
Q: Was it as smoggy as the pictures show?
A: (Jeni) Yes it was. We both struggled the breathe without coughing, and spent a lot of time commenting on the fact we could taste the air.
A: (Matt) Yes it was bad, but the pictures I’d seen on TV made it look worse than I thought we saw.
Q: How crowded was it?
A: (Jeni) Personal space is an unknown phrase. I did not see many homes on private land, just skyrise after skyrise. Families live in condos stacked on top of other condos.
A: (Matt) Very, but Vietnam seemed more chaotic and crowded than China to me. I could cross the road in China. It was suicide to do the same in Vietnam.
Q: How do the Chinese really feel about Americans?
A: (Jeni) Censorship is alive and well here. Tour guides are employeed through the government and say only what is allowed. My phone had trouble getting onto certain websites, although no sites were completely denied. I did get my hands on a few daily newpapers. The headlines were exactly the same as U.S papers with the names switched. So in China, the U.S was being the ‘bad guy’ on the same day NY Times said China was being the ‘bad guy’.
I guess that is the long way of saying-I don’t know. The people are not allowed to talk truthfully.
A: (Matt) It was actually way more open than I thought it would have been. Having been to Russia a couple times, China was much easier to get around. We never had to have a guide with us at all times. We were able to freely walk and explore. The cities were very clean & modern with western influences from shopping malls to KFC everywhere. The amount of progress this country has made in the last 30 years is staggering...
So much history-so little time. When I first learned part of trip would include 4 days in Vietnam I was very excited. Matt is a huge history buff, and I’m a huge military buff, making this a perfect stop. Man the tables flipped so fast. Our very first stop was a museum full of information on the war Vietnam had against the USA. (Yes they worded it that way) I couldn’t believe my eyes-is it possible ‘we’ did the things they claim? Never have we heard this side of the story. I spent about 20 minutes in there before I was overwhelmed and left. So many countries wanted us to stop fighting and leave Vietnam-why did we stay? If we were the good guys why do they distrust us even to this day? Our guide had to go against the wishes of his family to give us the tour! He explained to us that he was giving the tour because we WERE Americans and needed to hear this side of the story. When the USA left Vietnam the entire country was flat. No power, no running water, no medical, no drinking water (Agent Orange had been dumped into all the canals and water ways). People were living in underground tunnels because they feared someone seeing them.